Churches fight transportation fee on 1st Amendment grounds

Image from http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13909

The Alliance Defense Fund, which is known for trying to tear down the wall of separation between church and state, is now claiming that churches in one town do not have to pay a new tax because of church-state separation.

According to the Huffington Post, Mission, Kansas has instituted a new “transportation utility fee” which taxes properties based on the amount of traffic they get.

“It was just a fair way to spread the cost among those who are generating the traffic,” said Mission Mayor Laura McConwell, “to help pay for the roads that you need to bring people in either for your business or for the churches or to people’s homes.”

But some churches are apparently none to happy about the tax and have asked the Alliance Defense Fund, known for fighting for religious symbols on public property and defending convocations at public schools and government meetings, to help them on 1st Amendment grounds, arguing that the 1st Amendment prohibits the government from taxing churches. Again from the Post

“It makes no sense to tax churches and to limit their ability to provide their services, and it does damage to the constitutional separation between church and state,” argues Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund […] He acknowledges that church-state separation is generally not an argument made by his conservative Christian law firm; but in this instance, he says “there should be a separation here.”

So apparently the 1st amendment somehow prohibits the government from taxing churches? We could play the Christian Right’s game and bring up the fact that the exact words “separation of church and state” appear nowhere in the Constitution, nor does it explicitly say “The government will not apply transportation utility taxes on churches.” But that would be somewhat disingenuous since the exact wording is not what matters, but the idea behind the words. And no matter how you twist it, the 1st amendment does not even come close to saying churches should pay no taxes. It is ridiculous that churches are exempt from most taxes to begin with. And in this specific case, the transportation fee has absolutely nothing to do with establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Hey, maybe that’s their plan: they’re going to claim that “free” in the Constitution doesn’t mean “unrestricted”, but rather “without cost.” If religion should be “free”, then they shouldn’t pay taxes!

The sad thing is, if the Alliance Defense Fund can suddenly become church-state defenders when it suits them, I wouldn’t put it past them to try to twist the word “free” in the Constitution. I’m glad to see the Religious Right finally recognizes the idea of Church-State separation; it’s too bad it’s only when taxes are concerned.

God wants you to vote McCain!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

God wants you to vote McCain!

I’m honestly becoming a little scared about religion’s increasing place in the public sphere, which I’m sure was part of the reason behind me starting this blog. We have two presidential candidates who are falling over each other to prove they will be more religious-friendly than the other (I think McCain won that battle with the pick of Palin!). And now, preachers are breaking the law to overtly support political candidates . It sounds as though they are mostly McCain supporters.

There is just so much that’s wrong with this. Tax-exempt status is meant for *non-political* organizations. The idea behind tax-exempt status is to allow organizations serving the public good to get a break from the government on taxes. Organizations that are seeking financial gain or political gain for someone aren’t included because they’re not out to serve the public good.

These preachers feel that God wants them to promote political candidates. That’s fine with me, but in that case I don’t feel US taxpayers should foot the bill for these churches to promote one candidate over another. They can stop getting tax breaks from the government then and promote whatever candidate they want. And if God really wants McCain elected, then he can foot the bill himself.